Out of the Past: Hands-on ingenuity at the Fair then & now

       By Steve Cichon

The hundreds of thousands of visitors to the Hamburg Fairgrounds over the next couple of weeks have all kinds of favorite reasons for coming to the fair. From some, it might be about food, others the rides, maybe even shopping or people watching.

At the fair, 1908

Had you asked the question 110 years ago, for nearly every visitor, it was about celebrating agriculture and learning more how to get more out your crops and livestock.

In 1908, Machinery Hall featured the latest farm implements included steam-powered tractors and the Niagara Junior thresher built by Buffalo Pitts Company.

“Fairs have acted as public stages for innovation since their inception,” said CEO & Fair Manager Jessica Underberg. “Whether it was new steam powered farm implements in the 1870s, automobiles in the 1910s or the introduction of television in the late 1940s, the Erie County Fair allowed Western New Yorkers to experience new technology up-close and in person.”

The 179th Erie County Fair refocuses on that idea with “I-Hub at the Fair” inside the Fair’s Showplace Building. The display will focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) based businesses and education through daily demonstrations, interactive displays and hands-on activities.    

And the “Jim’s French Fries” stand, a real world outgrowth of the I-Hub comes with the world’s first, practical use “ketchup dispensing robot,” built by Hamburg’s Staub Precision Machine.

 “The I-Hub represents the future of our industry. In an ever increasing virtual world, Fairs continue to be a place where the community experiences life first hand,” said Fair Marketing Manager Marty Biniasz. “From the raising of champion livestock to inventions being created in our backyards, fairs celebrate and let people interact with the best of human accomplishments.”

Out of the Past: Erie County Fair Wrap up, 100 years ago

       By Steve Cichon

From the pages of the Hamburg Sun, following the fair in 1918, the county Board of Supervisors evaluated the Erie County Agricultural Society and its annual fair.

Erie County Fair ad, as appeared in The Hamburg Sun, 1876.

One hundred years ago, no other county in New York State had greater farm property value than Erie County, but there was a lament that the attitudes of those in the city didn’t match the agricultural output outside of Buffalo.

“Recent world events,” the report states, in reference to World War I, “have given everyone a new conception of his duty to his country, and not the least of these is the development along agricultural lines. That cannot be done… unless there be unity of purpose and co-operation between the rural and city populations.

“In the past the average city man has not sensed his full responsibility toward agriculture, and a great campaign of education and of instruction is necessary to progress agricultural affairs,” wrote Frank A. Dorn, the Hamburg real estate and insurance man who was also the Chairman of the County Board of Supervisors as well as a director of the Erie County Agricultural Society.

In 1918, the fairgrounds were valued at $60,000. About $8,000 in prizes were awarded for the top animals, agricultural products, and farming implements. More than 30,000 people paid to enter the fair in 1918, and there were as many as 3,000 cars parked on the grounds at any given time.

It was hoped that the report spelling out the numbers, showing Erie County’s leadership in farm value and the importance of “making Erie County preeminent in agricultural matters in the state” would help the fair grow in participation and in stature in the community at large.

“Friends on all sides,” was written in The Sun, “will be particularly pleased to note that the (county government is) paying the county fair its special attention. Given the right encouragement it can be made to rival the state fair.”

Last year, the Erie County Fair beat out the New York State Fair by about 30,000 attendees— 1.19 million to 1.16 million. The difference was the exact number of people who the Erie County Fair in 1918.